Working out : the relationship between health and occupational status in the city
This thesis explores contemporary health club use, and the meaning of such for those that live and/or work in the city. Focusing on the 'premier' health club sector this study considers the factors that encourage people to become part of the contemporary premier club culture. More specifically, this thesis is concerned with defining the characteristics of the premier club environment and to consider who they attract and why? What are the reasons behind the decision to join a premier club, does it reflect a personal desire to improve ones health and fitness or is it a culmination of social pressures and rational thought? Why is it that premier clubs are located within thriving cities and are they a prominent feature amongst the social network of the city? These questions emerged at a time when 4 million people in the UK held health club membership and premier clubs were receiving increasing media attention. Whilst this rise in popularity of health clubs only equates to 8% of the population holding club membership, it suggests that for a select number of people, health club use is a significant feature of everyday life (Mintell, 2003). Simultaneously, sociology is increasingly concerned with most aspects of health and illness, the state of the body and the impact of it on everyday practices. However, health club use remains a significantly underdeveloped area of sociological inquiry. This qualitative study has focused on the premier club environment, defined within this thesis as 'a club which expands on the common health club model of gym, aerobics studio and pool and offers a better standard of these basic facilities, a wider range of activities and extension services such as spa treatments, dry cleaning and booking services', The research was conducted in four premier clubs in two major UK cities. The empirical findings suggest that premier club use is socially and culturally located. There is a 'social value of health' which infiltrates all channels in society, a value which is particularly strong within the social network of the city. The research has shown that whilst premier club use is obviously, to an extent, a personal quest for bodily improvement, it is motivated by two factors. The first being the 'need' to improve health and fitness as a consequence of working in a high-pressured city workplace and the second, a desire to present a certain 'image of fitness', which again is shaped by the value of health that exists in the city workplace. In conclusion it was found that within the context of the city, body work and the development of a 'workstyle' is a motivating factor behind the decision to join a premier club. Premier club is an integral feature in the process of individualisation as social agents are engaging in a reflexive project of the self, whereby shaping their body and creating an overall image, or a positive workstyle, is of the essence.